I’ve been struggling lately with an article I’m writing. It was a decent piece–probably not spectacular, but decent–when I submitted it to the subject for factual review. Rather than providing verification and editorial commentary, however, the subject organization returned it to me with parts of it completely rewritten. Even more disconcerting, the people who had worked on it had inserted material that I had not covered in my interview. I felt extremely conflicted, and certainly indignant.
The problem was, most of the edits improved the piece.
Journalistic integrity aside–the subject of an article doesn’t get editorial rights unless the article is a paid placement, aka advertorial–I like the new piece better. When I consider the big picture and what we want to accomplish with this article, it gets us closer than my version. As I nurse my clipped wings, I can’t lose sight of that fact.
While all of this rattled around in my head, I revisited a brilliant little book I mentioned some months ago called Anything You Want, by Derek Sivers. There is a section titled “This is just one of many options” where he reminds readers that nothing ever goes according to plan, so plan for it.
We analyzed a business plan for a mail-order pantyhose company. Like all business plans, it proposed only one plan. After reading the whole thing, I felt like saying things my old voice teacher would have said:
-“OK, make a plan that requires only $1000. Go!”
-“Now make a plan for ten times as many customers. Go!”
-“Now do it without a website. Go!”
-“Now make all your initial assumptions wrong, and have it work anyway. Go!”
-“Now show how you would franchise it. Go!”
You can’t pretend there’s only one way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options. No business goes as planned, so make ten radically different plans.
I think I was more offended by the right turn in the usual editing process than by the actual changes to the article. I would have gladly rewritten it to accommodate worthy suggestions, but I wasn’t given the chance, though I did do some amount of editing to the altered version before I submitted it. Regardless, the end result is a more powerful piece that will more effectively capture the attention of its intended audience. And ultimately, that’s really the point.
I got where I wanted to go; I just had to follow a different plan.